Dan Weldon and Bad Brad Wheeler can pound some porch. They’re only two guys but when they play, as the Ogden-based duo did at Jan. 15’s Showdown to South by Southwest Finals, the earth moves. Tall, lanky Wheeler blows his harp like Gabriel’s trumpet … but with real soul, not righteous bombast. Weldon likewise strums his Martin acoustic guitar, playing only what the song requires. When he sings, it’s good gravelly soul that sticks to your ribs.
About that porch thing: Weldon applies his foot to a Porch Board, a device that simulates the sonorous thud of a Mississippi (you guessed it) porch and keeps time. Next to their songs—their dirty, gorgeous, weary, raucous songs, and divine musicianship—it’s the thud that gets you.
The thud is the pulse and the punctuation, there to ensure you don’t miss the point. That’s something the Legendary Porch Pounders, as Weldon and Wheeler are collectively known, hold in the highest priority.
“I’ve broken one of ’em,” Weldon grins. “Cracked it in pieces.”
He’s bragging—that’s another thing you notice about the band. They know what they can do and they love to tell ya about it. At the same time, there’s an underlying humility that actually seems to peacefully coexist with the pride. Like when Wheeler tells the story of the Legendary Porch Pounders.
The veteran local blues musician and manager of Ogden nightclub Brewski’s (formerly Beatniks) looks you dead in the eye—even when your nose is in your notepad trying to keep up with the story, you feel his eyes on you. The bill of his trucker hat is poised like a chicken to peck you to attention. He yarns in what Weldon calls “P.T. Barnum style,” setting the scene: three years ago, at a club on Ogden’s historic 25th Street. The smell of dog food is in the air …
An elementary school teacher calls Wheeler at Beatnik’s. She wants him to come teach the blues to some 800 schoolchildren. He made some handouts and arranged for a guitarist to accompany him and for the kids to each have a little Johnson blues harmonica. The lesson went off huge and the “Blues in Schools” program was born. But he soon had to replace his guitarist—enter Weldon, a singer-songwriter who ran in the same circles.
During their weekly lessons, which have since seen 8,582 kids meet the blues and their very first harps, the two men noticed a startling chemistry. Wheeler began sitting in on Weldon’s solo gigs and the pair wound up with a bi-weekly gig Sunday afternoons at O-Town’s Iron Horse as “Rev. Dan and Brother Brad’s Sunday Service for Sinners.” Here’s where the Porch Board—soon to be their namesake—emerged.
Through Wheeler’s gig booking Brewski’s, they befriended roots-music legend Bill Kirchen. Both acts wound up playing the Sun Valley Arts Festival in Idaho; Kirchen sat in with Wheeler and Weldon the first night, they returned the favor the next. The chemistry, says Weldon, was such that Kirchen proclaimed, “From here on out, we’re the Porch Pounders!” Wheeler added the “Legendary” when Ogden music ’zine Streets used the word descriptively.
Wheeler Barnums further. “Did I tell you about the dream? I had a dream that told me we needed to enter South by Southwest, win the trip to Austin, see Bill and reunite [for a triumphant gig].”
And damned if that hasn’t happened. The band entered the Showdown—another melodramatic saga that saw them almost not play, then surge to the final competition. They pulled out all the stops: the heartfelt songs, the muscular chops, the porch board. The finals crowd—for once not entirely comprised of the bands’ friends—ate it up, cheering like Wheeler and Weldon really were legendary. When the Legendary Porch Pounders were proclaimed the winners, the place erupted in cheers.
Wheeler figures it’s destiny. He may be right. At the very least, it’s one dream that seems to be coming true for them, and it’s about time we sent an Ogden band to Austin—if only as a point of pride. Whether anything develops from the trip come March remains to be seen.